Calming/Appeasement Signals in Dog Communication

Dogs use “calming signals” when they need some space, are trying to avoid conflict, and even self-soothe. Licking their lips/nose, yawning, blinking, and looking away are just a few of the actions that dogs use to express themselves.

I think that this is a very important topic that is not commonly discussed, and I feel that it’s essential to do so, not only so that we can better read our dog’s body language and interactions with others, but because I believe that we may also be able to use calming signals to communicate with dogs. Check out the following links to learn more about a variety of calming signals.

In the article “Understanding your dog’s body language” by Taryn Blyth, she begins by saying:

Norwegian dog trainer, Turid Rugaas, is renowned for her observation and explanation of “calming signals”, the body language that dogs use in order to avoid conflict. In a world gone mad on “dominance theory”, Turid’s work has great significance, as it reminds us that dogs are in fact generally not obsessed with fighting for rank and actually spend most of their lives avoiding confrontation and conflict.

– “Calming Signals – The Art of Survival” is the original article written by Turid Rugaas.

– Here’s a fascinating excerpt from Rugaas’ book, “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals.”

The slim hunting dog stood shaking in the middle of the room shivering, panting, looking desperate. She was a pitiful sight; so thin that her ribs stood way out. Within a few seconds the train near the house had passed, and then she started to behave more normally, coming up to greet me, being friendly, as these dogs usually are.

She lived beside the railway, and she was scared to death of the sound of trains when she was inside the house. She had become restless, had lost fifteen pounds in a short time, and had developed an abnormal heartbeat.

I was not at all sure what to do. Move to another house? Use drugs? I decided to try something when the next train came.

I told the owners what to do, and when the faint sound of the train appeared, I sat yawning and stretching my “front legs,” avoiding eye contact with the dog, but looking out of the corner of my eye to see her reaction. The owners were to look another way, talk normally to each other and drink their coffee. She shivered and panted, but looked at me when I was yawning. She looked at her owners and back again. The panting was not as heavy this time. Could this be possible?

When the next train was passing, everybody sat yawning and did not look at the dog. There was definitely a positive reaction in her.

I gave the owners some homework to do, and I returned one month later. They did not call me during that time, so I knew that the situation had not worsened. I came into the house with the dog greeting me like an old friend. I sat down, and she jumped up onto the sofa beside me (something that was allowed!) and curled herself up comfortably, falling asleep.

She had clearly put on weight and her ribs were not sticking out anymore. As we sat there, the sound of the approaching train began, coming closer and closer. The dog looked up at me with one eye, saw that I was still yawning, seemed to say, “Yes, that’s what I thought”, and promptly fell asleep again.

I was speechless and so happy. It was possible to reach through to a scared dog by using her own language, calming her fear. Once she had become calmer still her owners would be able to use some fun activities when they knew a train was coming, and that would also help.

This dog was one of my very first clients on whom I used calming signals, so I will never forget her.

I met her years later and she still recognised me. She lived to be an old and healthy dog, hunting rabbits in the forests. And now, I believe, if there are forests in heaven, she is still happily hunting there.

Jolanta Benal, “The Dog Trainer,” has an episode on “How to Tell When Your Dog Is Stressed.”

And Emily Larlham “Kikopup” will show you how it’s done!

From the video description:

Here are the main calming signals that I like to use with dogs-

1 Soft Eye Blinks
2 Looking Away
3 Lip Licks
4 Yawning

1- you can use calming signals to calm a dog down and tell them “no worries”
2- You can monitor your dog’s calming signals and if they are doing more than normal you can tell your dog is getting more stressed (calming signals are normal and happen all the time)
3- If you pet your dog and they offer CS that is normal, but Imagine this Scenario- a child pets a dog and it offers lots of CS. Then the dog walks away from the child, and the parent brings the child to the dog again, and the dog offers even more CS and walks away to lie down, then the parent brings the child to pet the dog a third time, and finally the dog is so stressed that it growls, or bites. The parent could have read that the dog did not want to be petted by the child more than that first time if they knew about CS.

You can also check out my recent post, “How to Greet Dogs, Kid-Dog Interactions, and Fearful Body Language in Dogs (with Posters & Videos).

Always be respectful when interacting with unfamiliar dogs, and be sure to ask people if you may approach and touch their dogs. However, no matter what the person says, it is important to use your own judgment and read the dog’s body language. Watch for the subtle signs that can predict more severe anxious or aggressive behavior before it escalates.

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